MILWAUKEE – Weary travelers who were stranded overnight at a Milwaukee airport began flying out Friday afternoon, one day after powerful storms pounded southeastern Wisconsin and caused widespread flooding that grounded all flights.
Both commercial runways at Mitchell International Airport were covered with water Friday morning. Crews reopened one runway about 1 p.m. and the second a few hours later, airport spokesman Ryan McAdams said.
The worst may not be over. Southern Wisconsin was expected to face another night of flooding and winds late Friday, with the National Weather Service forecasting as much as 5 inches of rain in some areas. Storms were expected to start clearing up Saturday night.
Marlene Wygle, 60, of Green Bay, said she had been eagerly looking forward to her first-ever flight, a trip to San Francisco to watch her son run a marathon Sunday. Her Delta flight was delayed three times, leaving her disappointed but understanding.
"I saw the rain but didn't think it was going to shut down the airport," she said. "But that's OK. I would rather they be cautious than not safe."
Almost 8 inches of rain poured down in just two hours Thursday evening, snarling traffic in and around Milwaukee and causing widespread power outages.
Drainage problems at a downtown Milwaukee intersection caused a giant sink hole about 20 feet deep to tear open, swallowing a Cadillac Escalade. The driver was pulled out safely but the SUV, which had a full tank of gas, continued idling for hours.
The driver was taken to a hospital. His condition wasn't immediately available.
Police were also investigating a report of a smaller sink hole forming between two Milwaukee homes.
Milwaukee police handled 500 weather-related calls throughout the night, Chief Ed Flynn said, including one where officers evacuated about 100 people from a flooded hotel.
In a separate incident, two people were struck by lightning and hospitalized. Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center spokeswoman Myrle Croasdale told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Stephanie Boyce, 30, was listed in good condition Friday night, but her sister, Mary Boyce, 25, was critical.
Their brother, Martin Boyce, told the newspaper, "Stephanie said the only thing she could remember was lying on the ground and hearing someone calling 911."
Air traveler Rachel Weeks, 23, was relaxed as she waited for her delayed Delta flight in Milwaukee. The U.S. Navy airman from Neshkoro is returning to Norfolk, Va., after a week of leave, and said she always schedules extra time when she travels because the military doesn't accept many excuses for returning late.
"I'm not too bothered," she said of the delay, adding, "It's weird, though. I flew into Milwaukee last year in an ice storm with no problem, and now it's like, really, rain's going to shut (the airport) down?"
With several creeks and rivers overflowing their banks and flooding suburban neighborhoods, Gov. Jim Doyle declared a state of emergency in Milwaukee County.
In addition, about 1,100 of 32,000 We Energies customers who lost power in Thursday's storms remained without service Friday evening. The company expected to restore power to all those customers by midmorning Saturday, assuming overnight storms didn't cause additional damage, utility spokesman Barry McNulty said.
There may have been at least half a dozen tornadoes during the storm. The National Weather Service reported tornado touchdowns near Whitewater, and more between Palmyra and Muskego, but there were no immediate reports of property damage or injuries.
The twisters were one reason Cheryl Ortiz, 49, of Waukegan, Ill., wasn't too upset that her Friday morning flight from Milwaukee to Fort Worth, Texas was canceled, even though her only other option now is to leave Saturday night.
"They're looking out for people's best interests," she shrugged. "I don't want to be up in the air with a tornado going on."